United Airlines Relents: Will Give Full Refunds For Two Hour Schedule Changes And Cancellations

United Airlines stopped honoring refunds for cancelled flights, and changed the terms of refunds for significant schedule changes, several times over the last three months. They went to extreme lengths to conserve cash, keeping customer money even when not providing promised services. They were slapped around vigorously by the Department of Transportation and have finally relented.

Until March 6th United’s policy was to honor refunds when they changed a passenger’s schedule by more than two hours. Customers who bought tickets under that policy could reasonably expect it to be honored, and changing to 24 hours and then 6 hours and torturing the English language with claims that the airline never cancels flights as long as they still serve a route sometimes was clearly against the law.

It took awhile but Zach Honig reports that United Airlines will once again provide full refunds when they cancel flights or even change the schedule of the ticket you purchased by two hours or more. He quotes an airline spokesperson,

We are continually looking at ways to better support our customers, and as part of that effort, we’ve updated our guidelines for handling refunds when our flight schedule changes. We have always provided refunds for refundable tickets, and these updated guidelines will offer additional flexibility to our customers requesting refunds for non-refundable tickets when flight changes occur. If our customers would like to check on their refund eligibility, they can go to united.com/refunds to submit a request.

This statement is priceless – United claims to have spent the last three months ‘looking at ways to better support their customers’ and what they’ve discovered what they needed to do is,

  1. Honor their legal obligation
  2. Honor the terms that were in place when customers purchased tickets

Shocking discovery they’ve made! I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the exchanges between United and the Department of Transportation that finally led to this.

The best news here, by the way, is that even if you were forced to accept a travel vouchers you can contact United for an exchange. You were entitled to a refund if your flight was cancelled, or if the airline changed its schedule more than two hours. And United will honor this policy retroactively, even where they had previously reneged.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “We have always provided refunds for refundable tickets”

    Wow, how generous of them!

  2. @ Gary — Now, where are AC, LH, LX, etc? I don’t want vouchers or miles. I want my cash returned.

  3. What remains unresolved is the stubborn refusal of the EU carriers who persist in ignoring EU261 and FAA policy (which explicitly requires full refund).

    Despite being a very seasoned flyer, I made the mistake of purchasing a business seat on Iberia, ORD-MAD. As you can imagine, my refund from mid-April is caught in the middle with both sides pointing at each other.

    At this point, we have the right to wonder where is DOT and FAA not to enforce our policies? Where is the U.S. Senate not to enforce our policies by demanding immediate refund, or, to strip the landing rights from those recalcitrant European airlines.

    As well, I would suggest writing the ambassador in Washington of the country’s airline at fault to request their intervention, reminding them of the impact on tourism by ignoring our laws.

  4. Just wait until you see the new regulations that will come into effect in January with the new administration. Its about the time of year when companies have to look forward to decide if their actions NOW will prevent a regulatory backlash LATER.

  5. You could submit a FOIA request for communication between DOT and United, almost as good as being a fly on the wall.

  6. UA has been dragging its feet on how quicklu refunds can be processed, as well. I was recently granted a refund on an itinerary and told that it would take 30 business days to process vs normal 20 business days due to a refund “backlog”. That’s another 1.5 month interest free loan to the company….

  7. I know that Scott Kirby is gonna relent once he feel enough heat from the competition. The guy’s smart and has a thick skin, will do whatever it takes save cash because he knows full well that demand will be non existent the minute there’s a pandemic therefore UA’s not gonna lose any ticket sales due to an anti consumer policy. In effect, he’s banking on the customer’s short memory and will choose the cheapest option again once they start flying regardless of what happened in the past. Now that demand starts to trickle back up, it’s time for UA to ditch that draconian rule and rejoin the competition

  8. DOT needs to start slapping foreign airlines. Revoke access to US airspace if necessary.

    Looking at you Air Canada – biggest scum of them all.

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